Therapy: The Laugh Track

Join a laughter club and giggle, chuckle, and guffaw your way to better health.

By Neil Parmar, published January 1, 2005 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Every Monday evening about 10 people gather at Better Health Chiropractic in New York City to laugh. About absolutely nothing.

The group is one of approximately 2,500 "laughter clubs" that have sprouted around the globe since the mid-'90s, when Indian physician Madan Kataria founded the first club in a Bombay park. Each club follows the same curriculum: Members stand in a circle while a certified instructor leads the group in some 20 different laughs.

One prescribed chuckle is the "broken vase" laugh. The leader pretends to drop an imaginary vase on he floor and then lets out a distinctive snicker. The group then performs the exercise together.

The point, says Kataria, is to "laugh without reason," which he believes is good for one's health. In the clubs, humor plays little role in initiating the laughter, although participants report that watching another person giggle is in itself pretty funny.

Today, laughter clubs can be found at U.S. elementary schools, churches, hospitals and military bases, although no studies have been performed to test whether forced laughter is effective.

Robert Provine, a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland who has studied laughter for more than a decade, has found that laughter is produced 30 times more often in social situations than in isolation. All the more reason, he says, to try laughing with others rather than alone.

Although he believes laughter is beneficial to health, Provine says it's probably not as powerful as many hope it to be. "If laughter were a drug going in front of the FDA, it would be rejected," he says. However, Provine says laughter clubs may very well spur genuine giggles—and boost health. He says that's because "laughter is contagious."

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